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New class of instructors arrive at The Sanibel School

By Staff | Sep 16, 2009

Last Friday morning, the staff working at The Sanibel School’s main office could be seen walking around briskly, moving between tasks with seamless ease and dutiful purpose.

That kind of professionalism is admirable, especially when you consider that they are just three weeks into the 2009-10 school year.

But when you witness their new crew of full-time and part-time instructors following along at the same pace, such feats are even more impressive.

When school began earlier this month, The Sanibel School welcomed four “new” teachers to their National Blue Ribbon Award-winning institution, although none of the bunch could be considered “green,” either to their educational careers or the school itself.

Joan Shenko Von Arx, an ESE (Exceptional Student Education) instructor, has returned to The Sanibel School for a fifth year overall, following a career in medical transcription. Born and raised in Fort Myers, she wanted to get back into teaching after raising her three children.

“I’ve always enjoyed working with children,” said Von Arx. “They have a fantastic staff here, a very helpful group of people. I also love this community because it has that ‘hometown’ feel… everyone takes care of one another.”

A graduate of the University of South Florida with a bachelor’s degree in Elementary Education, she has been married to her husband, Wally, for 30 years.

“I like teaching because every day is different,” added Von Arx, whose immediate goal is to “challenge kids to their maximum potential.”

Fourth grade instructor Deanna Evans is no stranger to The Sanibel School, either. As a youngster, she attended third, fourth and fifth grades at the facility after her family moved to the island from Wisconsin.

“I always wanted to be a teacher, but I got sidetracked getting married and having kids,” said Evans, who noted that her husband, Pete, also attended the school as a child.

The Cape Coral resident, who received her B.S. degree in Elementary Education from Barry University and her masters degree from Nova University, previously spent more than four years at The Sanibel School as a teacher’s assistant with Kathleen Zocki and Barbara Simmons. This year, she landed the full-time gig herself.

“This is a great age group because the kids are still sweet and they like being in school,” said Evans, who explained her goal this year was to have her students be metacognitive. “It’s thinking about thinking, and it enhances their problem solving skills.”

Danielle Valle, who teaches reading to kindergarteners through third graders, is in her third year as an educator, having previously taught in the Orlando area. After her husband was relocated from Central Florida to Sanibel, the former elementary-level science instructor was happy to find work at The Sanibel School.

“I really like it here,” said Valle. “I can’t say enough about it. I love what I do, the people I work with, the beautiful area and the kids. They’re all great.”

An undergraduate at the University of Central Florida, where she majored in Psychology, Valle earned her teaching certification in 2006. She looks forward to quickly becoming a teaching mainstay on the island.

“I’d like for all of my kids to enjoy reading,” Valle added. “I want them to really like what they read and not look at it as an assignment or a hassle.”

Mary Eileen McDonnell, who has previously taught in Evanston, Ill., at the International School of Turin in Italy and in Fairfax County (Va.) public schools, is a new kindergarten instructor. She and her husband, Richard, fell in love with Sanibel the first time they vacationed here.

“We really love it here, especially the island community and their support for one another,” said McDonnell. “They support groups like F.I.S.H., they support environmental causes, they support education through The Sanibel School Fund and they celebrate education through activities and parental involvement.”

McDonnell explained that her motivation in teaching kindergarten-age children is being able to answer the many questions posed to her each day by the youngsters.

“I love their fierce curiosity,” she said. “They have such boundless joy for the littlest things in life.”

This being her first experience at The Sanibel School, McDonnell’s goals are plentiful.

“I’d like to forge relationships not only with the students, but with the students’ parents,” she added. “A lot of them are new parents to the school, and this is my first year here as well, so that presents a lot of opportunities to support the school in many different ways.”